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God allows suffering to help us grow

August 22, 2010

The Gospel Doctrine class tomorrow is about Job.

Here are a few of the points from the chapter:

  • The Lord will sustain us through our trials.
  • All things will be for our good and help us grow if we are faithful.
  • We can receive strength by trusting in the Lord, building our testimonies of him, and maintaining our integrity.
  • We get sick so that we can learn patience.

I’m all for taking life’s lemons and making lemonade when possible, but not everyone has the privilege to take that perspective. Consider these stats from a book I read recently called God’s Problem:

  • A child dies of hunger every 5 seconds.
  • Every 20 seconds, someone dies from malaria, and most of them are children in Africa.
  • Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.

Almost certainly, someone in class tomorrow will say something to the effect of “God allows trials in our lives to help us grow.”

But claiming that God allows suffering for our growth is dismissive to those who are suffering. Imagine standing in front of a sobbing woman holding her child who has just died from malaria and saying, “God allowed this to happen for your own good.”

Richard Dawkins writes about the Oxford theologian Richard Swinburn “who once attempted to justify the Holocaust on the grounds that it gave the Jews a wonderful opportunity to be courageous and noble.” This all too closely parallels former LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball’s comment that we get sick so that we can learn patience.

Or consider this example closer to home. There is a young man in the ward with a 3-year-old and a baby due in three months who fell, went into a coma, and needs to be in a wheelchair for awhile to recover. Suppose one of us tells him, “God allowed this to happen for your own good.” It’s just incredibly insensitive.

An often-cited analogy goes like this: Just as parents let their kids make mistakes so that they can learn from them, God lets us suffer because he loves us and wants us to learn from our mistakes. At a certain level, the analogy holds. But increase the child’s suffering, and the parent becomes negligent or cruel.

A few months ago, our one-year-old son Elijah bumped his chin on our desk and bit through his tongue. It bled a lot. Then, less then a week later, there was a terrific windstorm. Elijah was standing in the doorway looking into the backyard when the wind slammed the door shut on his finger, taking off his fingernail. My wife called me home from the library and I took him to the pediatrician.

Now suppose my wife said to me, “I could have prevented Elijah from biting through his tongue, and I could have stopped the door from ripping off his fingernail, but I allowed it because I thought he (or we) could grow through the experience.” CPS would most likely remove our children from their mother’s custody, and they’d be right to do it.

The faithful might reply something about, “Our ways are not God’s ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Oh, the justifications! The mental back flips! No — the most elegant answer to the problem of suffering in the world is that God does not exist.

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One Comment
  1. Grrrr, the book of Job makes me *so* angry. You have stated it perfectly, once again, by saying a lesson, taken too far, becomes negligence and downright cruelty.

    There is *so much* wrong with in Job it makes me sick. God bets with Satan (why someone would bet with an omniscient being, I don’t know). God kicks Job when he’s down and makes fun of him for being a puny human. His friends spend all their time being decidedly unfriendly to him. And in perhaps the most profane and obscene passage in the entire Bible (and that’s saying a lot), God gives Job the gift of ten more children — you know, to make up for the ones he let Satan kill.

    God, how people love the “lesson” of Job. It makes me utterly sick.

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